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Phi Beta Kappa Scholar Visits F&M

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  • Jean Comaroff, the 2009-10 Phi Beta Kappa/Frank M. Updike Memorial Scholar

She will be on the Franklin & Marshall campus for less than 48 hours, but her impression on students could last forever. Just ask one of Jean Comaroff's former students, Professor of Anthropology Misty Bastian.

"This is the chance of a lifetime for students," Bastian says of the upcoming visit of her graduate mentor and undergraduate professor. "She's one of the great thinkers of our discipline. She offers students a chance to meet a major theoretical powerhouse of the past 30 years."

Comaroff, Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, will visit campus Oct. 20-22 through the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program. The program sends some of the country's most recognized scholars to other institutions to share their insights and expertise. Comaroff, the 2009-10 Phi Beta Kappa/Frank M. Updike Memorial Scholar, is one of 12 visiting scholars around the country this year.

Comaroff will present her campus-wide address, Ethnicity, Inc.: Identity in a Neoliberal World, in the Great Room of the Ware House Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. Earlier that day, she will attend two separate dining events with students: a luncheon at the Joseph International Center and a dinner hosted by Ware House. She will also meet with two anthropology classes during her time on campus.

"Jean has a deep and abiding passion for anthropology and the study of religion," Bastian says. "The students will get to see her mind in action. You sit down with her for 30 minutes and come away with your head spun in all different directions. She can change your perception of the world, and it will be interesting to see how students react to that.

"She's very personable, very eminent and very approachable," Bastian says. "That is an unusual combination."

Comaroff is the author of Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People. She has co-authored and co-edited a number of influential books with her husband, anthropologist John L. Comaroff.

Her research on colonialism, globalization and modernity—much of it carried out in South Africa and Botswana—focuses on the body, healing and religious practice. She has won two Quantrell Awards at the University of Chicago for excellence in teaching, has given endowed lectures throughout the world and held numerous visiting professorships.

Noting the College's celebration of 40 years of coeducation, Bastian says, "It's appropriate for us to bring in a woman of her power and repute. It will be good for students to see a woman at the top of her theoretical game."

The Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program has sent 566 scholars on 4,736 two-day visits since it was established in 1956.

A team of Bastian, Associate Professor of Government Robert Friedrich and Associate Professor of History Maria Mitchell helped the College secure Comaroff's visit. Bastian is coordinating her mentor's stay in Lancaster. Mitchell is president of the College's Phi Beta Kappa chapter, while Friedrich served as president last year.

Joel Eigen, Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology and don of Ware College House, was also instrumental in bringing Comaroff to campus. Eigen is vice president of the College's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and will serve as president next year.